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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Michael Tau'ili'ili Reinstated

By BRYAN STRICKLAND : The Herald-Sun
bstrickland@heraldsun.com
Aug 16, 2007 : 10:52 pm ET

Duke linebacker Michael Tauiliili has been reinstated to the program and returned to the practice field Thursday, but Tauiliili will sit out Duke's season opener against Connecticut and could face further punishment pending the outcome of his day in court.

In addition, Duke coach Ted Roof said that Tauiliili is being subjected to approximately nine internal sanctions stemming from an Aug. 4 incident in which he was charged with driving while impaired, failure to stop after causing property damage, carrying a concealed weapon, assault by pointing a gun and simple assault.

The 20-year-old Tauiliili, a junior, is scheduled to appear in Durham County District Court on Oct. 4 -- two days before Duke's sixth game of the season. If the court date is postponed, as sometimes happens, Tauiliili might not answer to the charges until after the season.

Roof had indefinitely suspended Tauiliili, the team's leading tackler each of the past two seasons, on Aug. 5, one day before Duke started preseason practice. The Blue Devils open their season Sept. 1 against Connecticut.

"We're basing this punishment on what's been established," Roof said. "He has embarrassed himself and embarrassed this football program, and he's embarrassed this university. He's paying a dear price for that. The internal sanctions are very severe, and they address the problem and what we need to do to correct the problem.

"I'm a believer in the United States' judicial system, so we're going to let that process run its course. Pending what happens with that, we reserve the right to impose additional sanctions."

Tauiliili took part in individual drills at practice late Thursday afternoon, wearing shorts while the rest of his team wore pants and pads. Per NCAA rules, he must go through four practices before being allowed to wear full pads.

Tauiliili wasn't available for comment, and the school said in a release earlier Thursday that he wouldn't be available until further notice.

Roof wouldn't discuss the details of the internal sanctions but said they addressed the root of the problem. Alcohol appears to have played a major role in the incident: Police records show that Tauiliili's blood alcohol level at the time of his arrest was .12. The legal limit to drive in North Carolina is .08.

According to court documents, Tauiliili was involved in an automobile accident in the Cook Out! parking lot at 3624 Hillsborough Road and failed to stop. He then got involved in an altercation and was accused of physical assault and pointing a CO2-powered pistol. At the time of his arrest, he was in possession of a concealed knife.

"I wanted to send a very serious message to our team, which this situation deserves. That is not acceptable behavior," Roof said. "I've had many discussions on a lot of different levels, and I know that this is fair to the university and to the athletic department and our football program, and it's fair to Mike.

"Our players are disappointed in Mike. This is not what we're about. We don't condone it. His teammates are very disappointed in him. He's got to earn their respect back, too."

Roof said that Tauiliili would be given the opportunity to try to earn back his starting position at middle linebacker, which is currently occupied by sophomore Vincent Rey. Rey backed up Tauiliili last season but moved to a starting spot at outside linebacker before spring practice, only to move back to the middle when Tauiliili was suspended.

"I'm glad to have him back," Rey said. "The truth is that with all of our linebackers, both positions should be learned and we should know both pretty good. Today I was playing in the middle, but I could be playing outside tomorrow. It's pretty nice that we can be versatile."

For now, juniors Charles Robinson and Tim Ball are starting at the outside spots. Robinson was already listed as a starter before Tauiliili's suspension; Ball had moved up the depth chart into Rey's spot.

"Michael is an awesome player," Robinson said. "He's a hard worker, and he's dedicated."

While Tauiliili's fellow linebackers are welcoming his return, they say they're ready regardless of what happens.

"I'm just excited to get on the field and go to war with my friends," Rey said. "I think we have an extraordinary group. The thing I like about the linebacking corps on the whole is just that we love playing football.

"Sometimes you might be sore from practice, but we still love it. We come out here and we're running around and we're hitting people. That's what we love."

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